To some resident, the Department of City Planning's rezoning proposal was a long-awaited solution to the problem of growing house sizes in the neighborhood. To others, the proposal represents an attack indicative of a growing void in understanding the Bukharian Jewish culture thriving in this section of Queens.
The Cord Meyer-Forest Hills rezoning area is generally bounded by 66th Avenue and 67th Road to the north, Grand Central Parkway to the east, 72nd Road to the south, and 108th Street to the west
John Young, director of the Queens Department of City Planning, presented the new revisions to the current R1-2 zoning regulations in the neighborhood of single-family detached houses. Young stressed the importance of balance in the neighborhood, which was developed in the early part of the 20th century.
"What we are trying to do is create a more predictable framework, so that there will be fewer instances where there's ambiguity as there is today," he said.
The new zoning regulations will allow a 25-foot maximum on perimeter wall height – replacing the often-ambiguous city sky exposure plane currently used to determine maximum height.
The new zoning would also set a strict limit of a 35-foot maximum building height. Currently, there is no set maximum height limit on homes in the area. Front yard line-up is also another issue addressed by the new plan. Requiring houses to be lined up is the "best way," Young says, "to strengthen the character of the streetscape."
City planner Joy Tien commented that the proposed regulations will provide more predictability, but will also allow flexibility.
Passionately opposed to the new changes was Albert Dayan of the Bukharian Jewish Congress, who spoke on behalf of the new homeowners in Cord Meyer.
"We cannot fit into the homes that are proposed by the new city plan," he pleaded to the community board members.
Dayan argued that the close-knit community, traditionally with larger families consisting of not only three to five children but elderly parents as well, bought houses in Cord Meyer for the purpose of accommodating these needs.
"They [elderly parents] live with us because to us, it is a tradition," he said. "We want to grow, we want to build homes to reflect our families, and reflect our tradition, and we are asking this board to recommend not to take that away from us."
Dayan pleas were met by negative reactions and rumbling in the room.
The audience in the small room sympathized with older residents of the community. One resident, Lynn Brownstone stated to encouraging applause, "Considering that it costs about a million dollars to buy a house in the Cord Meyer section, tear it down, and put up something big enough for a family of fourteen, there might be enough money around to buy some other houses and not disturb the conformity of our neighborhood."
Several members of the Association of Old Forest Hills also spoke in support of the new zoning regulations. They believe improved regulations will maintain the character and look of the neighborhood.
After all the testimony and questions ended, the board voted almost unanimously to approve the plan. It will now go under review by the Borough President, then to the City Planning Commission, and last to the City Council for final approval.
Dayan plans to continue fighting the rezoning efforts on behalf of the Bukharian Jewish homeowners in Cord Meyer.
"We believe that the source of this change is negativity," he stated in his appeal at the meeting.